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Environmental Stewardship: an update

Photograph by Alison Day

We recently wrote to everyone with Environmental Stewardship agreements to outline some changes that we plan to introduce in 2023.

Rather than offering agreement holders an extension of a single year, we're offering extensions of 5 years.

This change, shaped by feedback, gives greater certainty and clarity to people in existing agri-environment agreements.

It also removes the burden of having to apply for an extension each year.

We already offer 5-year agreements for existing Countryside Stewardship holders.

Higher Level Stewardship agreement extensions

Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) is part of the Environmental Stewardship scheme. It is the predecessor to Countryside Stewardship.

At the moment, there are approximately 8,500 HLS agreements. They are still delivering important environmental benefits on our most valuable habitats. For example, on Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

Under European Union rules we could only offer annual extensions for HLS agreements.

Since 2019, we've offered annual extensions to HLS agreements in cases where agreements continue to deliver environmental outcomes.

Those in Environmental Stewardship told us that although annual extensions are welcome, longer extensions offer greater flexibility and certainty.

Not only does it reduce bureaucracy, it ensures the continued delivery of environmental benefits as we roll out our new environmental land management schemes.

For that reason, from 2023 onwards, we will offer existing agreement holders extensions of 5 years.

In exceptional circumstances, agreements could be extended for fewer than 5 years.

Moving to new schemes

Farmers have told us that they want to secure what they've delivered and do even more to build on the environmental benefits they’ve achieved.

In response to this, we're taking a more flexible approach. From 1 January 2023, all CS and HLS agreement holders will be able to leave their agreements early, without penalty, if they are offered a place on another environmental scheme.

For example, if you're an HLS agreement holder and you apply for CS in 2024 or if you're an HLS/CS agreement holder and you're offered a place in Local Nature Recovery.

By doing this, we can support people to transition to the new schemes and maintain environmental delivery on the ground.

We plan to roll Local Nature Recovery out gradually. It will be offered, in full, from the end of 2024. This flexibility gives continued stability up until then. It has no impact on our roll out plans.

A more flexible approach to checks

We listened to feedback from users and updated our approach to scheme breaches. Last year, we introduced new rules around scheme controls, inspections and penalties. These apply to agreements starting in 2021 or later.

Agreements starting before 2021 were, at that time, still covered by EU rules. We were still spending EU funding on the scheme, under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement.

From January 2023, we are able to bring all existing HLS and Countryside Stewardship agreements onto these new domestic terms.

This means that our new flexible, supportive approach to controls will apply to all agreements from 1 January 2023.

Next Steps

We've written to existing Environmental Stewardship agreement holders to let them know about these changes so they can prepare. 

Later this year, we will send further information to those who could benefit from these changes in 2023.

If your Environmental Stewardship agreement does not end in 2023, we will write to you to set out your options for extensions later in 2023 or 2024. We'll also share more details for the extension arrangements for your agreement.

As mentioned, our new environmental land management schemes will be fully rolled out by the end of 2024.

We will provide a smooth way for those in existing agreements to transfer to the new schemes. Anyone in an existing agreement can also enter into the new environmental land management schemes so long as the actions are compatible and we’re not paying twice for the same actions.

For updates on our work, do subscribe to the Future Farming blog.

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  1. Comment by Nina Bell posted on

    Will payments -for example Ed Access payments - increase to be in line with other schemes? Currently CSS pays £309 for an educational access visit and HLS only £109

    • Replies to Nina Bell>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Nina,

      Thanks for your question. HLS is no longer open for applications or scheme changes. That said, we're in the very early stages of considering changes to Countryside Stewardship and have taken note of your comment.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  2. Comment by Denise Seely posted on

    My CS HT scheme started in Jan 2022.
    'Agreements starting before 2021 were, at that time, still covered by EU rules.' So NOT mine.
    'our new flexible, supportive approach to controls will apply to all agreements from 1 January 2023.' So NOT mine.
    Or do I not understand?
    But why not start from 1 Jan 2022? I have been running CSHT schemes off and on for nearly 20 years but am still fraught with anxiety when I THINK I may be in breach of the rules.

    • Replies to Denise Seely>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Denise,

      As you have an agreement that started in 2022, you are already on the new domestic funding and its terms and conditions which came into effect from 1 Jan 2021.

      So your terms and conditions and the scheme manual for that scheme year (2022) already reflect the changes.

      What this post addresses is the fact that people whose agreements started before 1 Jan 2021 (on EU terms) are shortly to have their terms and conditions changed from 1 Jan 2023 to more closely align with the domestic version of the scheme.

      So you don't need to worry. You are already on domestic terms and conditions and so already have the benefits of the changes. These include the removal of additional penalties on top of reductions etc that existed in the EU funded scheme and the ability to leave early without recovery to join the new environmental schemes.

      You can read about your scheme conditions in the 2022 manual, here: Countryside Stewardship:

      We hope this helps,
      Best wishes,
      The Team

      • Replies to The Team>

        Comment by Denise Seely posted on

        Thank you 'team'. Thats a relief. So here are 2 examples of what I consider an example of unreasonable inflexibility.
        Example 1
        Whitton is running a CSHT scheme, and is also on the point of being accepted for a EWCO woodland. The woodland application started in dec 2020. Fencing is in both EWCO and CSHT schemes.
        I am told by my fencing contractors that old telegraph poles (replaced recently and stored in a dry hemmel) are superior for straining posts to purchased ones. I checked the NPG spec for the poles and saw that they were treated to the same spec. The NPG poles have a bigger diameter. The FC will not commit and the CSHT advisor tells me that some inspectors rule out using telegraph poles thus I will lose the grant. So I will therefore use purchased ones. Bonkers!!
        Example 2 CSHT.
        Whitton is rebuilding drystone walls BN12. Fine. I also applied for BN13 (3.60) but feel that I should use FG2 £4.90) because most of the wall is built into the field which is higher than the road which abuts the field. I am happy to claim £3.60, but this seems to be a difficult decision for my very helpful CSHT advisor. I do not want to run into a dispute. So how do avoid a penalty when I think I am making a better decision?

        The inspectors appear not to discuss the issues with the HT advisors.
        I would like clarification or a resolution!!! I am hoping that by describing real issues the administrators can better understand the farmer.

        Thank you, Denise

        • Replies to Denise Seely>

          Comment by The Team posted on

          Thanks, Denise. We'll pass this comment on to colleagues in the Forestry Commission, Natural England and the Rural Payments Agency.

          Best wishes,
          The Team


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